Iconic books are texts revered as objects of power rather than just as words of instruction, information, or insight. In religious and secular rituals around the globe, people carry, show, wave, touch and kiss books and other texts, as well as read them. This blog chronicles such events and activities. (For more about iconic books, see the links to the Iconic Books Project at left.)

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Who owns Torah scrolls?

A dispute over ownership of four Torah scrolls has spilled out of the confidential confines of Jewish courts into Los Angeles District court, reports the Jewish Journal. The case pits a rabbi's widow, who claims the scrolls belong to her, against the rabbi who succeeded her husband who claims the scrolls belong to his congregation.

The case raises interesting questions regarding the Torah's iconic status as something more and different than just another book. The congregation's current rabbi,

Ohana disputes the very notion that the scrolls belong to Pauker, questioning whether they ever were family scrolls. Besides, he said, Torahs are owned by a community, not by a rabbi, a donor or anyone else. 'Sifrei Torah are not like money to change hands'.
(picture of Ohana from the LA Times)

He is refusing to accept the decision of a rabbinical court which disagreed with him and decided the case in favor of Mrs. Pauker. This pitting of community interests versus private ownership is reminiscent of the struggle to gather the fragments of the Aleppo Codex that remain in private hands.

April 9, 2009: The LA Superior Court judge reversed the rabbinical court's ruling and has awarded the scrolls to Rabbi Ohana and his congregation, according to the LA Times.

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